I've been putting off doing this. I knew what the results would probably be and the thought of going through the hassle and expense of using special bottled water for my tea sessions pained me. But I'm dabbling in some mighty nice tea now and it can't be ignored any longer. Time to figure out just what effect different types of water has on the taste and experience of pu-erh.
What finally prompted me on this path are some samples I ordered from Stephane of TeaMasters who is widely regarded as having a particularly fine selection of teas. I've been disappointed to find myself unable to appreciate much about them and have been wondering how much is due to my immature palate and how much might be due to the water I've been using (tap water). I'm also curious about the kettle I'm using to boil the water in, but that will have to wait for another experiment. Stephane has a lot of great information on his blog about the effect of water and kettle and other parameters. I'm learning a lot from him.
For today's experiment I boiled tap water in one kettle and a brand of bottled watered called Fiji water in another kettle, brewing up two separate tea sessions side by side. In the pictures above and below the cups on the left are using the Fiji water and the cups on the right are with tap water. Clearly the Fiji water brings out more color in the soup, with a deeper orange hue. Taste and mouth feel was also much improved with the Fiji water. It had a much creamier quality to it. Thicker. The Fiji water tea also proved far more active in the mouth. More penetrating. More hui gan. The tap water tea, in comparison, was far more watery and flat.
Another interesting observation was found in the aroma of the leaves in the gaiwan. The tap water brought out lots of high overripe fruit notes in the leaves, while the leaves from the Fiji water tea had a much more balanced and refined aroma. Also, there was more of a classic pu-erh aroma with the Fiji water with plenty of woody notes and complexity. The aromas from the tap water tea tended toward occasional off-smells and just seemed more unsettled overall.
I've got a few different brands of bottled water I want to try out. I've also read of some people finding improvement by using home-filtered tap water with the addition of a few drops of trace minerals. I also want to play a little with bamboo charcoal, as well.